The Sober Science

Mark Lilla

  • German Ideology: From France to Germany and Back by Louis Dumont
    Chicago, 259 pp, £25.95, March 1995, ISBN 0 226 16952 9

The modern social sciences were born out of modern political philosophy. Overtime, those sciences declared their independence one by one from the philosophical tradition, then tried to reshape it after their own image. The intimate relation between economics and Anglo-American liberal thought, now centuries old, offers a classic example. A similar story might be told on the Continent, though for different social sciences in different countries. When, for example, the Continental Left sought a non-liberal alternative to orthodox Marxism in the post-war years, the Germans leaned towards sociology, the French towards anthropology. In part, this choice was dictated by political events. The Frankfurt sociology of Jürgen Habermas became prominent in the wake of the Wirtschaftswunder, while the structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss spoke to French misgivings about the colonial experience. In both countries these disciplines became as much means of engaging in politics as sciences for studying it.

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